In 2022, my family was divided into two, each living in a different country, each country undergoing its own war; my grandmother was in Ukraine and I was in Gaza, along with my mother, father, and siblings.
The war was some distance from Dnipropetrovsk, the Eastern Ukraine city where my grandmother lived. Yet, we knew that the fighting was quickly moving into the whole of Ukraine. So, on January 22, my mother left Gaza to convince my sick grandmother to leave war-torn Ukraine.
I begged my mother to let me accompany her. I was the eldest son and I felt it was my responsibility to keep the family safe. Since my mother is Ukrainian and my father is Palestinian, I hold both Ukrainian and Palestinian citizenship. This means that I am subject to military conscription in Ukraine.
I thought that maybe, being a student at university would have excused me from joining the army. In any case, I preferred being conscripted to leaving my mother to travel alone in a war zone. But she was adamant and did not allow me to go with her.
Meanwhile, in Gaza, the Palestinian Resistance had launched several rockets at Israel in response to increasing settler attacks on Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. Rumors spread on social media and news outlets about the possibility of a new war.
Memories of the last Israeli military aggression against Gaza still haunt me. If a new war started in Gaza, would I be able to overcome my fears without my mother’s presence?
I could not even focus on my studies. I was constantly worried.
If something happened to my mother and grandmother, my 7-year-old sister, Zamzam, would be lost. My two older sisters would never adapt to living without her. As for me, I couldn’t imagine even the slightest thing happening to her without being overwhelmed with panicky feelings.
On the day of departure, I accompanied my mother to the Rafah crossing border, holding her hand tightly all the way there.
I waited with her until the Palestinian border authorities called her name. Then, I waited alone outside as she entered the hall, where they could check her passport and authorize her entry into Egypt.
There was no time for a suitable farewell because the taxi driver of an old seven-seater Mercedes kept shouting, “Hurry! We are going to be late! Get in the car so I can move from the queue!” I hugged her one last time, prayed for her safe journey, and took a picture or two as a memory. I kept waving at her until the car disappeared in the distance.
A week later, my mother eventually reached Ukraine and met my grandmother in Dnipropetrovsk. To get there, she had traveled from Gaza, passing through Cairo, Sharm El Sheikh, Vienna, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland. When she arrived in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, she finally took a bus to Dnipropetrovsk.
My mother left Gaza on January 22 and came home with my grandmother on February 19, an entire month to travel what would, without wars and siege, have taken less than two days. With no airports in Ukraine because of the war, the trip from Ukraine to Egypt took more than a week.
I had not seen my grandmother since she came to Gaza for a visit in 2018.
When she got out of the taxi at the gate of Rafah crossing, I was so relieved. I hugged her and cried.
“I cannot believe that I finally made it to Gaza!” she said.
She has no family members in Ukraine and she has been living alone since my grandfather passed away in 2007. Because of the war, she decided to sell all her properties at half price. She left everything behind to permanently move to Gaza.
Now, she lives with us and we are taking good care of her.
“In Ukraine, I only owned material items, but here I have my precious grandchildren,” she keeps repeating.
When I asked my grandmother how she has been adapting to the electricity outage in Gaza, she said, smiling, “It is not a problem anymore, since in Ukraine, due to the war, there was an electricity outage as well.”
My grandmother also told me that Gaza is much warmer and has many fruits, especially avocado, which she loves.
As for me, I feel safer and less distressed. The war in Ukraine is still excruciating, but it felt even worse when my grandmother was trapped there. The endless threat of Israeli aggression here in Gaza is horrific, but it was even more terrifying when my mother was gone.
The third war, the one that is constantly in my head, is now calmer, thanks to the warm feelings of having my family together, reunited, in Gaza, at last.
This story was co-published with Palestine Chronicle.